Stories of domestic animals onboard warships have become the stuff of legend, like Red Lead, a cat that survived the sinking of HMAS Perth in the Second World War, and Trim, Matthew Flinders' cat. But of recent times, the ship's cat or dog has been in short supply.
In the true meaning of 'bring your dog to work day', HMAS Canberra was recently home to two dogs.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment embarked Canberra in Townsville recently during her unit readiness evaluation, as the ship was assessed across all her capabilities including deploying Army personnel, vehicles and equipment via helicopter and landing craft.
Embarking among the infantrymen, engineers and support staff were two Explosive Detection Dog Handlers from 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment and their dogs, PJ and Skye.
PJ is a seven year old, stubby tail blue cattle dog and is a veteran of two deployments to the Middle East. Her handler, Sapper Sean Weston, said the dogs didn’t seem to mind the living arrangements on the ship.
“They are living in one of the bathrooms and we put down some mats and astro turf to make them comfortable,” Sapper Weston said.
“We have been taking them down to the well dock where they can run around for some exercise and PJ also does physical training with me.”
The dogs are used when troops deploy ashore in a hostile environment where the threat of improvised explosive devises exists.
“My dog and I can be deployed ashore via helicopter or landing craft,” Sapper Weston said.
“In the helicopter the dog wears a muzzle for extra protection in case she gets spooked and she sits between my legs with her lead connected to me for safety.
“We embed into an engineer search team and conduct search operations with them, clearing routes and locating weapon caches.”
The second dog onboard is Skye, a three year old border collie trained by her handler, Corporal Mark Worthington.
Canberra’s crew enjoyed having the dogs embarked, and it seemed to lift morale just seeing them around the ship.
Able Seaman Aviation Support Gabriella Hayllar said she loved seeing the dogs around during the day.
“It’s good for the soul,” she said.
“I wanted to take one to breakfast so I could slip her some bacon under the table.”